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New world. HouseParty, Zoom… Beware of privacy risks with these video applications

An aperitif online during confinement, in Montpellier on March 30, 2020 (GUILLAUME BONNEFONT / MAXPPP)

The application Houseparty is one of the great discoveries of this spring 2020 for many internet users. This small smartphone application, which has existed since 2016, makes it very easy to communicate on video, in small groups of up to eight people. In these times of confinement, it’s the ideal app to stay in touch, especially during very popular “cyber-aperos”. There are also small multiplayer games. In short, all the ingredients are there to make HouseParty a huge success, to the point of being one of the most downloaded apps in many countries. However, be careful. HouseParty is intrusive.

First, the app builds on your existing contacts. Upon installation, it asks to recover your Facebook and Snapchat contacts. This is convenient because it allows you to get in touch quickly with others, but it is not without risk. On the one hand, all these contacts can see as soon as you are online on HouseParty and can solicit you, even if you don't necessarily want to talk to them. On the other hand, if you do not activate private mode, any of your contacts (or those of your friends) can enter video communication with you without warning. If you are in “containment”, that is to say a little neglected, this may surprise …

HouseParty is also accused of a more serious problem. According to messages posted by users on social networks, the application would hack your other accounts, including Instagram, Netflix, Spotify or PayPal. However, be careful. This accusation seems far from being verified. The HouseParty editors say it is not true. They even offer a million dollar reward to anyone who can prove that this is a smear campaign. The problem could also come from careless people who use the same passwords for all their accounts or share them a little too quickly with their friends.

Another popular video app right now: Zoom. It is still a handy piece of software in a period of confinement for staying in touch with friends or business relationships. However, we have noticed that Zoom sends certain information about its users to … Facebook (when they log in via the social network authentication system). Alerted, the publishers of the application claim, however, that they have recently rectified this problem.

Then there is what is known as “zoom bombing”, that is, the unexpected arrival of uninvited people in video conversations. Some groups have witnessed the arrival of unknown interlocutors and even the appearance of pornographic images. The problem is that some Zoom large meeting organizers post login links on social media and let anyone in. It is therefore up to them to take the necessary precautions.

Finally, another more technical point concerning Zoom can cause a stir: the audio and video conversations would not be encrypted (that is to say protected) from start to finish. They would pass in clear on the servers of the company and therefore could potentially be monitored. Zoom managers, of course, defend themselves and ensure that they guarantee the confidentiality of users' exchanges.

In short, if these video communication applications seem very practical in these times of confinement, however, they should not be used lightly. When possible, the right privacy settings should be made.

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